Last Sunday night Kyle Lafferty reportedly called Michael O’Neill to inform him he will not be travelling for the Nations League games this week and next.
The Rangers striker has accrued 68 caps for Northern Ireland over the last twelve years. Michael O’Neill is said to be very disappointed as he didn’t receive formal notice from the IFA or Lafferty’s club Rangers but given his chequered history with Lafferty this may not have come as a massive surprise. Lafferty has struggled with an achilles injury of late and has yet to play for his club this season. Michael O Neill told the media “I’m disappointed that he has ruled himself out of the two games, but our focus is on the players who are with us and I will address this situation after the international period.”
Lafferty’s absence from the squad has made room for 25-year-old Rotherham striker Kyle Vassell. Vassell joins the striker panel which includes Josh Magennis, Will Grigg and Liam Boyce. This is his first call up to the squad after being scouted at Peterborough when former Northern Ireland International Grant McCann was a player/ manager at the League One club. Vassell qualifies for this squad through his maternal grandfather who hailed from Fermanagh. After developing a close relationship with McCann, he advised Vassell if he was offered the opportunity to play Northern Ireland to grab it with both hands.
He met Michael O’Neill earlier this year and was told he wasn’t far away from making the squad after scoring thirteen goals for Blackpool last season. He signed a three-year deal with Rotherham this year and although he is yet to score for them, he told the media “The thing with me is I’m very determined and I don’t like losing, so I’ve always got a bit extra in me to try and win, to be on the winning team.” Vassell wants an international football career like his cousin Darius Vassell who played for England at the 2002 World Cup finals and at the European Championship finals.
Vassell went onto say “As a kid you dream of the World Cup and European Championships, you always dream of the biggest tournaments. The Euros is absolutely one of them. I 100% want to get there and the fact that we already have, and we have a great team. The boys are brilliant as well, I want to say that.”
Northern Ireland play Austria tomorrow night at 7.45pm followed by Bosnia Herzegovina on Monday 15th October in the Nations League Group stages.